Breakthroughs Film Festival: Sharp Shorts from Women of the World

By Kim Hughes

Even in a city teeming with film festivals both large and small (not to mention niche), the Breakthroughs Film Festival lays claim to multiple unique aspects, not least 19 short films from nine countries spanning five continents screened over two consecutive nights in one conveniently located theatre.

Wonderland: a must-see at Breakthroughs.

Wonderland: a must-see at Breakthroughs.

Happening June 15 and 16 at Toronto’s Royal Cinema (608 College St.), Breakthroughs’ other main draw — apart from its sheer logistical manageability and affordability ($12 for one night, $20 for both) is an astonishing breadth of subject matter/genres delivered exclusively by emerging female filmmakers. Chick flicks of a different sort, you might say.

Now in its seventh year, Breakthroughs Film Festival is set to dazzle with titles ranging from a sly look at the often thoughtless but still insidiousness creep of racism (“Night,” a razor-sharp, nine-minute US/Netherlands production) to the hazards of being a modern single woman on the dating scene (Canadian director Jasper Savage’s blisteringly dark and comic “Jessica Jessica”) to the horrors of World War II (the superbly animated “Nana.”)

And the quality is strong. You wouldn’t think, for instance, that two sex actors speaking openly about their jobs could make you rethink sex work. But director Claire Allore’s brief, vivid “Work” manages to reveal the people behind the acts; level-headed, in touch with their own desires, and keen to satisfy the desires of others without shame.

Other films are starker in tone. “Wonderland” by American director Tiffanie Hsu explores a gambling problem from the perspective of a kid forced to spend Christmas holed up in an anonymous Las Vegas hotel room as her mom tears through cash at the blackjack table. But 12-year-old Adeline will have her revenge.

With multiple different films screening back-to-back each night beginning at 7:30 pm (scroll down for a complete list of titles with synopses), Breakthroughs promises to keep even the most restless viewers buckled in. 

"As the world begins to learn about our festival, the diversity and content continues to not only grow but also break new ground,” Gabor Pertic, Breakthroughs’ executive director is quoted in a statement. 

“We are so pleased to invite our growing audience to these exceptional screenings. We are in awe of these amazing storytellers and we continue to strive to be a platform that promotes female filmmakers both locally and internationally."

Indeed. Need more info? Visit the official Breakthroughs site.

Here is the complete two-day screen schedule: 

FRIDAY, JUNE 15 – screenings begin at 7:30pm 

Paulette in Paris, Directed by Isabelle Sophie Arouë (FRANCE) rt: 16 min 31 sec
On a summer afternoon, Paulette, a young girl, sees Michel, a 30-year old pickpocket, steal a wallet and decides to follow him. The two embark on a journey across the streets of Paris and form an unlikely friendship. 

Wonderland, Directed by Tiffanie Hsu (USA) rt: 14 min 18 sec
Twelve-year old Adeline Tang struggles to navigate America’s adult playground and keep her mother’s gambling under control, all for the promise of that perfect family Christmas holiday once her father arrives. But as the days unfold, Adeline realizes that growing up might not hold all the excitement she’d been hoping for.

Little Brother, Directed by Dominique Van Olm (CAN) rt: 11 min 40 sec
On the edge of adolescence, Dexter visits his sister in the city for the first time. Little Brother examines the reawakened relationship between two siblings with a 13-year difference as well as the struggles of a young boy exploring a new city and the newness of adolescence.

Zaya, Directed by Susanne Serres (CAN) rt: 6 min 40 sec
Zaya is a contemporary dancer who has just realized the love for her dance partner Nadege. But first she must realize the love for herself, overcoming her fears and opening up about who she is to her mother.

Jessica Jessica, Directed by Jasper Savage (CAN) rt: 12 min 52 sec
Jessica Jessica is a grown up coming of age story. The funny/sexy/sad/truth of how hard it is to be a woman who wants to settle down but won’t settle.

Set in Toronto, a scene from Jessica Jessica.

Set in Toronto, a scene from Jessica Jessica.

Vitamin C, Directed by Guðný Rós Þórhallsdóttir (ICELAND) rt: 10 min 56 sec
Two young girls collect items for a charity raffle but they’re really spending the profits on what they love the most – Vitamin C effervescent tablets. When an elderly lady clocks on to their scheme, a game of blackmail begins.

Dear Hatetts, Directed by Kerry Barber (CAN) rt: 6 min 17 sec
What happens when a woman is accused of lying, and the unimaginable effects that a disease like endometriosis can have on a relationship. Told in a simple, straight-forward and heart-breaking style, the “liar” (the filmmaker herself) tries to explain to the family of her lover.

The Last Dream, Directed by Noemie Nakai and Carmen Kobayashi (Japan) rt: 11 min 30 sec
In a future where people have lost the ability to dream, a company has made a business out of generating perfect dreams that would satisfy as many clients as possible. Khalil, a model employee, had always been one of the top performers until one day, his dreams are no longer to the liking of the company…

Laundry Day, Directed by JJ Neepin (CAN) rt: 3 min
A dream while you sleep can have a possible deeper meaning than you think at the time. JJ retells a dream her late grandmother had when she was a young woman.

Night, Directed by Joosje Duk (USA/NETHERLANDS) rt: 9 min 30 sec
When Sue’s cousin Genelva visits her from Suriname, they want to go out to a fancy club with Sue’s two best friends. But after having an unpleasant encounter with the club’s bouncer at the door, the course of their night changes completely. 

Night: exploring racism under the covers.

Night: exploring racism under the covers.

SATURDAY, JUNE 16 – screenings begin at 7:30pm 

Amaretta, Directed by Hana Maeorg (AUS) rt: 8 min 17 sec
A coming-of-age comedy about a young girl who, for the first time, realizes that the world isn’t as fair for girls as it is for boys. 

Living Here, Directed by Sarah Baril Gaudet (CAN) rt: 16 min 40 sec
Living Here is a story made of solitude and wind told with the poetry of Nunavik’s stark tundra and the beauty of young Martha’s words.

Nana, Directed by Ali Kellner (CAN) rt: 5 min 5 sec
Animated with perfection, Vera Reiner was taken from her home and family in Budapest at a young age in World War II. Taken as a prisoner, she recounts the story of how she survived along with thousands of other women during the Nazi occupation of Austria and Hungary in 1944. This was produced by Sheridan College in Toronto. 

Girl Eating Banana, Directed by Natasha Babenko (USA) rt: 6 min
While a young woman is auditioning for the role “girl eating banana” the unexpected discovery within the banana pushes her psychological boundaries to limits. 

Work, Directed by Claire Allore (CAN) rt: 11 min 7 sec
Two sex workers in Toronto share experiences relating to race, gender, and emotional labour in their work. 

A scene from the film Work.

A scene from the film Work.

I Love My Robot Boyfriend, Directed by Sariah May (USA) rt: 17 min 50 sec
Shelly, a teen-queen science extraordinaire, plagued by the elusive and tantalizing idea of true love, sets out to create herself the perfect Robot Boyfriend. When she succeeds, she must come to terms with the consequences of his so-called “perfection.”

Vrede, Directed by Lodi Matsetela (SOUTH AFRICA) rt: 14 min 1 sec
Set in apartheid South Africa in the ‘60s the film follows the life of Ntombizodwa, banished to live in the far-flung town of Vrede, sent there to serve her house arrest sentence. Everyday becomes an exercise in anticipating the next modus of harassment the apartheid security police will use on her. 

Rosario, Directed by Marlen Rios-Farjat (MEXICO) rt: 10 min 8 sec
Rosario, a housewife who is the caregiver for her ill husband, silently struggles between her responsibilities and her desire for a more fulfilling life. 

The Things You Think I'm Thinking, Directed by Sherren Lee (CAN) rt: 14 min 17 sec
A black male burn-survivor and amputee goes on a date with a regularly-abled man. After the bar, they go back to his apartment where he faces his demons as he attempts to experience intimacy for the first time since his accident 10 years ago.